Feb. 9 Gala 1st Step to Reopen Bronx LGBT Center
When the Bronx Community Pride Center closed its doors at the end of June 2012 amid allegations that former Executive Director Lisa Winters stole $338,000 from the group to use on vacations, meals, clothing and even a dog walker, many thought that was the end. The next month, their worst fears were realized when the Center shut its doors for good.
This wasn't the first time naysayers have written off the borough; and it won't be the first time they ended up being wrong.
Peter C. "Equality" Frank spearheaded a group that managed to salvage Bronx Pride only weeks after the shutdown. Now, Frank and other dedicated volunteers are taking it a step farther and taking it on the road -- south to Manhattan. On Feb. 9 at Club Rebel, the multi-storied nightclub on West 30th Street in Chelsea, rappers, dance-music divas, assorted other entertainers and a small army of drag queens will provide four hours-plus of magic, mascara and mayhem.
It's all part of a concerted effort to start a new Bronx LGBTQ Center. The "Valentine's Vamp" gala will feature a roster as diverse as the borough itself. Adam Barta, Sir Ari Gold and Sissy Van Dyke are all proud Bronx natives. Hostess Appolonia Cruz is definitely Appie from the hood; among her sequined gowns is one in the form of the Puerto Rican flag.
Vamping at the Vamp will be New York's drag royalty, from sassy "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant Jiggly Caliente to buxom blonde Lady Clover Honey. So will Tym Moss, Athena Reich, Sissy Van Dyke, Lovari, Pvaz, Laritza Dumont, Yuhua Hamasaki, Spicky Hilton, L'Tifah Tigerss, Mr. Stonewall Cub Jay Edwards, Andrea Alton and Diva Jackie Dupree.
Have you ever wanted to dish with Swish -- that is, break bread with New York’s most fabulous fag hag? You can if you win a dinner date with Sue Sena, the founder of Swish, the organization formerly known as Straight Women in Support of Homosexuals (until straight men clamored to join).
If you’d rather dig deep into the city’s political culture, you can yenta Yetta -- Kurland, that is. Veteran activist Yetta Kurland challenged Chris Quinn for City Council from Chelsea and is gearing up for 2013 run in what promises to be one of the most interesting council races.
If you’re a club kid, budding dance diva, or just want the inside scoop on the city’s nightlife, you can if you win a dinner with cutie Chris Ryan, one of New York’s fastest-rising young promoters. Or you can compare musical notes with Steve Sidewalk, the DJ whose driving vocals have landed him regular gigs at XL and on Fire Island.
Other prominent members of the LGBT community who are going dollars-to-donuts include Richard Annington, Adam Barta, Jenna Fox, Jason Hellinger, Yetta Kurland, Maria Lapachet, Stevie NYC, Cory Oden, Taylor, Michael J.D. Warner, Scott Wooledge, and all of those evening’s entertainers mentioned above.
For Frank, "All of the bachelors and bachelorettes who are lending their time and support to this event are wonderful forces within the NYC LGBTQ community. They’re not just pretty faces and hot bodies. They are business people, entertainers, performers, artists, activists, community leaders, and politicians."
I have to put in a plug, however, for EDGE’s own Nightlife Editor JC Alvarez. When he isn’t running down stories about happenings in 21 cities, Alvarez is busy marketing programs at HBO, he’s interviewing celebrities for his own show.
Cruz is well known for hosting Pride celebrations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. She has also agreed to be auctioned off, but be warned: For this princess, White Castle might be a place for a honeymoon with Prince Harry, but you will not be downing sliders on her date.
"Hopefully, people have some money out there, because I need to eat dinner at someplace nice," said Cruz. "Even Lucky Cheng’s would be okay, to have a bite and watch a good drag show." Because sometimes it’s nice to sit back and let the other girls serve the dish.
Last year, Cruz, Frank and other volunteers managed to organize a Pride celebration within weeks after the Bronx Community Pride Center closed its doors.
The July 21 event in Crotona Park in the South Bronx hosted elected officials and entertainers galore, plus an anti-bullying youth rally.
Particularly touching, said Cruz, was an older woman who brought her teenaged gay son to Corona Park to participate.
"I gave him some motherly advice, told him to stay strong and don’t be bullied," said Cruz, who said she would begin working on this year’s Bronx Pride event next month. "If you don’t show up to Pride, it’s like we don’t exist; it gives our community life, and a voice."
The Bronx encompasses several communities, from Orthodox Jews and Italian-Americans to immigrants from Ireland, the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent and Africa, and Latinos from Argentina to Cuba. They each have their own needs, but one common thread is questioning, gay, lesbian or bisexual young people.
Many of them feel the need to conceal their identity because of fear of rejection by friends, family and the larger community. That’s why a center where they can feel comfortable is so important.
"Lately, our community has been under the lens, and that added scrutiny has made it a challenge for some, especially LGBT youth, to find a safe place to congregate and get the support that perhaps they don’t have in their own circles," said Alvarez. "Everyone should have a warm and inviting place where they can be themselves, and it should be in their own neighborhoods."
Organizing Pride only begins to define the planned LGBTQ Center’s mission. It will provide HIV prevention on several levels and, Frank hopes, a home to grassroots organizations. Other boroughs and local counties have their own such centers, so it’s perhaps ironic that the Bronx, where the need might be greatest, currently lacks one.
"This is one of the most difficult areas to be an out LGBT individual," said Frank. "There is still a great deal of homophobia and transphobia in the Bronx; it’s one of the least accepting areas to live in. So our end goal is to raise money to provide services, and open a center to raise awareness about LGBT issues in the community, and to fight for acceptance."
The ad hoc committee has already envisioned a new LGBT Center as more encompassing than its former iteration, which emphasized youth and transgendered populations. Volunteers hope the new center will serve all segments of the borough’s diverse LGBT communities.
If the Feb. 9 event is successful, it will become the fiscal cornerstone toward an eventual brick-and-mortar center. With enough funds, organizers can file for the center as a charitable organization, thus making it easier to solicit funds from private and public sources.
Frank hopes the Vamp will "raise a significant portion of the money we need to open our doors and begin serving the LGBTQ communities in the Bronx."
With enough rebels at Rebel, the dream will become a reality.
Valentine’s Vamp will be held from 5:30-11 p.m. on Feb. 9 at Rebel NYC, 251 W. 30th Street in Manhattan. For info and tickets, visit http://bit.ly/valentinesvamp